LAUSD WINS KEY LEGAL BATTLE WITH CHARTER SCHOOLS: California appellate court panel strikes down a ruling that could have opened up many classrooms for charters and created potential hardships for traditional campuses.
By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/UKOir3
December 7, 2012 :: Los Angeles school district officials won a key legal battle with charter schools this week, when an appeals court struck down a ruling that could have opened up vast numbers of classrooms for charters, while also creating potential hardships for traditional neighborhood schools.
The decision means that charter schools will continue to receive space in much the same way as traditional schools: If the Los Angeles Unified School District puts 26 students in a classroom, then charters will be allotted rooms based on the same ratio.
The California Charter Schools Assn. had argued that its operators were entitled to more space because the district uses many rooms for purposes other than regular classroom instruction.
Charters are free, publicly funded schools that are independently operated. Under state law, school districts must offer space to charters that is "reasonably equivalent" to that provided for students on traditional campuses.
The association had prevailed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, but a three-judge California Court of Appeals unanimously reversed that decision Wednesday.
The analysis offered by the association "may well have anomalous results," wrote Judge Edward A. Ferns. "For example, the district would have to count classrooms that have been contracted for but not yet built and classrooms at closed school sites." Ferns cited a ruling in another case to note that a statute should not be construed to create "absurd results."
L.A. Unified had painted a grim scenario, in which charter students would enjoy small classes at a neighborhood campus that could see its own students bused elsewhere and deprived of rooms needed for services to disabled students and students learning English, among others.
"Hundreds of classrooms across the district" would have been affected, said attorney David Huff, who represented L.A. Unified. Charters would have been provided space at an average rate of 15 students per classroom, whereas the district average is about 26 per classroom, he said.
An attorney for the association challenged whether district students would have faced any hardships.
"There was no evidence to support any of those assertions," Julie Umansky said. The original court order "would have required the district to go through its inventory and evaluate classroom space. We would hope that would have resulted in more classrooms available for charter schools."
Thousands of charter students attend substandard campuses compared to district-owned campuses, said Sierra Jenkins, a spokeswoman for the charter association. She asserted that, until the group sued in 2007, illegal inaction by L.A. Unified forced charters to fend entirely for themselves.
A 2008 settlement failed to end the legal jousting, which, in 2012, resulted in the court order successfully challenged by L.A. Unified.
Last year, 81 charters requested space and the district concluded that 67 were eligible. Of these, 45 accepted the district's offer, which is good for one year.
The district offered an amount of space "equivalent to the Pasadena Unified School District," Huff said.
Charters are typically charged about $6.25 per square foot annually for "operations and safety" costs, Huff said.
On 58 campuses, a charter and an L.A. Unified-run school co-exist side by side, a sometimes uncomfortable arrangement.
For next year, 79 charters have applied for space.
L.A. Unified has more independent charter schools, 185, than any other school system in the country.
The association has not yet decided if it will ask the court to rehear the matter or if it will pursue a California Supreme Court review, Umansky said.
Court Says L.A. Unified School District is Fair to Charter Schools
Metropolitan News-Enterprise | By a MetNews Staff Writer | http://bit.ly/TKhdvt
Friday, December 7, 2012 :: Los Angeles Unified School District’s method of assigning classroom space to charter schools is valid, this district’s Court of Appeal has held.
Div. Five found Wednesday, in an unpublished opinion by assigned Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Edward Ferns, that Judge Terry Green erred when he found that the school district’s use of “norming ratios” violated California law.
Under Proposition 39, public school districts are required to share their facilities fairly among all public school pupils, including those in charter schools.
In 2007 the California Charter Schools Association filed two lawsuits alleging that the school district failed to provide facilities to charter schools in the same classroom to average daily attendance ratio as those provided to other students in the district.
Those claims were resolved by a settlement agreement that was to remain in effect until June 30, 2013.
In 2010, however, the CCSA filed a complaint for breach of that agreement and asked for specific performance, a permanent injunction, and other equitable relief to enforce its terms.
The trial judge ordered the school district to extend facilities offers to charter schools for the 2011-2012 school that submitted legally sufficient facilities requests and to make those and future offers Proposition 39 – compliant during the term of the settlement agreement. It denied CCSA’s requests for injunctive and declaratory relief.
The issuance of that order was not challenged by the school district.
Last year the CCSA again filed a motion to enforce the trial court’s order with regard to its facilities offers for the 2012-2013 school year. The CCSA alleged that the district’s use of norming ratios violated subdivision (b)(1) of the regulations, which provides, in part:
“Facilities made available by a school district to a charter school shall be provided in the same ratio of teaching stations (classrooms) to ADA as those provided to students in the school district attending companion group schools.”
The CCSA argued that the number of classrooms the school district was required to take into account was those it is required to include in the list of classroom inventory it prepares pursuant to California Code of Regulations, title 2, Sec. 1859.31.
Under those regulations, classroom inventory is to include, among other things, classrooms contracted for but not yet built, and classrooms included in a closed school.
Green agreed with the CCSA and ordered that the school district not use norming ratios to reduce the number of classrooms offered to charter schools in the future.
But Ferns, in his opinion for the Court of Appeal. said that the regulations are properly read as requiring the school district to provide its facilities to charter schools in a manner that will promote Proposition 39’s intent of public school facilities being shared fairly among all pupils, including those in charter schools.
“We make a distinction between facilities that are ‘provided’ and ‘classroom inventory.’ … If we were to adopt the analysis proffered by CCSA, it may well have anomalous results. For example, the District would have to count classrooms that have been contracted for but not yet built and classrooms at closed school sites.“
“The District’s use of norming ratios is consistent with the intent of Proposition 39. It furthers the goal of ensuring that public school facilities are being shared fairly among all public school pupils and that the charter school’s in-district students are being accommodated in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which those students would be accommodated if they were attending other public schools of the District. “
Presiding Justice Paul Turner and Justice Sandy Kriegler concurred in the opinion.
The LAUSD was represented on appeal by David M. Huff, Marley S. Fox, Joanna Braynin of Orbach, Huff & Suarez, and Mark S. Fall.
The California Charter Schools Association was represented by James L. Arnone, Winston P. Stromberg, and Michele L. Leonelli of Latham and Watkins and by in-house lawyers Ricardo J. Soto, Julie Ashby Umansky and Phillipa L. Altmann.
The case is California Charter Schools Association v. Los Angeles Unified School District; B242601.
CALIFORNIA CHARTER SCHOOLSASSOCIATION,Plaintiff and Respondent,v.LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOLDISTRICT et al.,Defendants and Appellants.B242601(Los Angeles CountySuper. Ct. No. BC438336)APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Terry A.Green, Judge. Reversed.
California Charter School Association v. Los Angeles Unified School District et al.
Case Number B242601
Description: Reversed in Full
Status: Final 8 pg/REV
Publication Status: Signed Unpublished
Author: Ferns, Edward A.
Participants: Turner, Paul (Concur) , Kriegler, Sandy R. (Concur)
Case Citation: none